Stop Doing Business Development, Until You Can Emerge From Weeds

You probably read the title of this article twice because you know I’m all about the legal biz-dev game. Many of my articles are written around experiences I have in my personal and business life which I’m told makes my writing more interesting. This article is no different. Recently, one of my new clients missed one of my classes because he had too much work coming in. Additionally, he couldn’t really do the prospecting activities we had agreed upon. Many attorneys are having this “problem” these days, being overwhelmed with new clients and billable hours. 

So, what was my advice for this new client? Stop doing business development and regroup. I scheduled a Zoom with him and started asking questions, as I tend to do. Within minutes, we discovered a bunch of time-sucking difficulties that needed to be addressed. Without getting into his specific issues, here are three easy things that need to be handled to ensure you can stay on top of your business development activities.

Tip #1. Only take on the clients and matters that, well, matter. 

Any business is good business, right? Wrong! Whether you’re super busy or not, focus on taking on the right clients for the right reasons. Being a general practitioner is a losing proposition for most attorneys these days. There’s simply too much time involved in keeping up on all the different laws and intricacies in every practice area. If you’re mainly doing estate planning, for example, and then you lock up a complex real estate matter, ask yourself, “how much time will it take to learn the complexities of the law, the matter at hand and deal with the other lawyers who specialize in real estate?” The time it will take you to learn and handle these matters will destroy your ability to do the work you enjoy and already have expertise in. The alternative is to refer out the matter and make another lawyer appreciative. Try to select someone solid and who is able to reciprocate on the estate planning when he or she happens upon those deals. You can make this a win-win, just by being a giver.

Tip #2. When business is flowing in and you’re locking it all up, raise your rates. 

While this might cause you a touch of apprehension because you don’t want to scare people away, it might be the best decision you make this year. Inflation is at a record high and people generally understand that things cost more today than two years ago. Think about it, your prospective clients don’t know what you’ve charged in the past. If you’re at $350 an hour, bump it up to $375 or $400 and see what happens. My experience is that nothing will change and you’ll get what you’re asking for with little push back. In the case that you do, you now have the wiggle room to lower the fees to what you would have asked for in the first place or stay the course and disqualify a “nickel-and-dimer” client who may not see the value in your expertise and value.

Tip #3. Delegate the S#!t out of everything you can!

If you’re someone who follows my writing or podcast BE THAT LAWYER, you know I’m all about delegation. The truth for most lawyers is that they aren’t doing enough of it. I know, I know, it’s easier just to do it yourself and get it right, but at what cost? Ask yourself, “how many things am I doing that are significantly under my billable rate?” I’ll bet it’s a lot! One suggestion that top time management gurus suggest is to track your day or week to get real with what’s actually happening with your time. I’ve found some crazy and inane tasks that lawyers are doing themselves. 

Like what you ask? Okay, I’ll share a few of the worst offenses I’ve learned about. 

  • One of my clients was making copies for two hours a day.
  • Another was staying up until 2 am and then sleeping in and missing the entire morning.
  • As I mentioned earlier, spending valuable time learning a different area of the law to handle a case that you shouldn’t be taking on in the first place.
  • Editing and producing one’s own podcast. Wow, just wow.
  • Doing hours of administrative and paralegal work each day because the attorney thought it more prudent not to hire anyone.
  • Handling the bookkeeping and invoicing without case management software.

These are just a few of the many offenses that I encounter in speaking with lawyers on a daily basis. Clearly, it’s critical to identify where your time is going and what undertakings are below your paygrade. Much of this is finding good people to take administrative tasks off your plate. The good news is that there’s never been a better time to find virtual assistants that can do just about anything you need. So, stop being so stubborn and ask around to find good services and people to help you gain control of your time.

While there are countless other ideas and ways to deal with being busy, these three tips may hit the mark for you if you haven’t already instituted them. My experience is that when you’re doing the work you enjoy, getting paid more for it and you’re able to delegate the lower-end tasks to someone else, it’s hard to lose. Maybe start with one of these ideas and work your way to hit all three over the next 30-60 days. I know you will enjoy the benefits and have more time to grow business versus being stuck in the weeds with what you already have.